What can Eric Wedge try next?

May 14, 2012, 9:13 PM | Updated: May 15, 2012, 10:40 am

By Mike Salk

Eric Wedge is running out of patience – and it’s hard to blame him.

He has called out Shawn Kelley for a hanging slider, then he sent the reliever to Tacoma. He has called out Chone Figgins – asking for more (or even some) production – and then he took his well-paid leadoff man and stuck him on the end of the bench. He named names when Michael Saunders squeezed on his own. He has called out Brendan Ryan for a couple of sloppy defensive plays and even benched his best defensive player here and there.

Wedge said, in no uncertain terms, that this year was going to be different. He may have sat back and observed in his first season, but that was clearly a temporary state of zen, and the bubbling anger that he kept below the surface may have come back in spades in his second campaign.

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Ichiro is hitting for average this season, but hasn’t shown the power of a prototypical No. 3 hitter. (AP)

It seems every week Wedge has something – or someone – to reprimand publicly.

Is it working?

That’s hard to say. The team is 16-21. They are, depending how you look at it, either five games below .500 or on pace for just 70 wins. If you prefer the former, it’s impressive considering how little they have gotten from Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak. If you focus on the latter, it is the start of another 90-loss season.

For Eric Wedge, the truth is likely somewhere in between. He, better than anyone, understands the requisite inconsistencies with a young baseball team. He’ll exercise a little extra patience with Smoak, whom he publicly supported last week despite the horrible numbers. He’ll quietly bunt Ackley with the game on the line then offer his young second baseman a mental health day without drawing attention to it. His reprimand of the Saunders squeeze was gentle, toned down, and did not include any loss of playing time.

But Wedge is not going to suffer through veteran struggles. Why should he? If you are over 25 years old and can’t hit your weight, you probably aren’t part of the future here.

“He needs a day,” Wedge said of Ryan on Saturday, once the shortstop had drifted below .150. “I need a day.”

He went on to suggest that Ryan has been unable to even defend himself at the plate!

With Figgins relegated to a bench role and Ackley and Ichiro ensconced in the first and third spots in the lineup (for now), Wedge has been hard-pressed to find an acceptable hitter between them. Kyle Seager makes sense, but he is left-handed and right now is too valuable as a run producer in the middle of the lineup. As a righty, Ryan would be ideal. But with him struggling, Wedge has tried to avoid becoming overly left-handed in the top of his order – especially when facing lefties like Andy Pettite and Jon Lester.

Casper Wells was an inspired choice on Sunday – but his presence keeps Carp, Saunders or John Jaso out of the lineup.

The question is this: how young can the Mariners go?

Could you use this lineup regularly?

1. Ackley 2B
2. Wells DH
3. Ichiro RF
4. Montero C
5. Seager 3B
6. Carp LF
7. Smoak 1B
8. Saunders CF
9. Kawasaki SS

Or are your ready to experiment?

1. Ackley CF
2. Liddi 3B
3. Ichiro RF
4. Montero C
5. Seager 2B
6. Carp DH
7. Smoak 1B
8. Wells/Saunders platoon in LF
9. Kawasaki SS

Hmmm.

I have always believed that Ackley’s long-term value is maximized at second base. But is that coming at the expense of playing time for quality young infielders? If you believe that the M’s absolutely must determine what they have in Carp, Liddi, Seager, Smoak and Saunders, this may be the best way to get them each the maximum number of at-bats. It improves your defense at second base and potentially in left field.

It also does not account for the potential return of Franklin Gutierrez, but that seems like an afterthought at the moment.

Then there’s Ichiro.

Wedge has now noted that his highest paid player is not doing any “damage” hitting third. Essentially, he admitted that the experiment has failed. Could Ichiro return to his familiar leadoff spot?

Of course he could. But should he?

I’m not so sure.

In talking to dozens of former teammates, coaches and managers, there is a recurring belief that Ichiro does what he wants when he wants and without regard for what is best for the team. Some use the word selfish, but others have gone so far as to suggest that he will sabotage a manager that won’t let him get his way.

Is that what is happening now?

I don’t think so. Ichiro has hit, but not for power. He has been Ichiro. Is that because he chooses not to swing for the fences or because he isn’t capable of doing so? We won’t know.

But if he is to be moved, I’d prefer he try out the second spot in the order. We’ll see which direction Wedge opts to move. He’s got a lot of options.

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What can Eric Wedge try next?